When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish marched off the field of Hard Rock Stadium in 2017, they were humbled and simply overwhelmed.
The No. 7 ranked Miami Hurricanes had smothered the No. 3 Irish 41-8, and the team from South Bend, Ind. had not even gotten on the board at halftime, facing a 27-0 deficit.
It was a night in Miami Gardens, Fla. where every part of the Hurricanes had fired on all cylinders. Running back Travis Homer rushed 146 yards, quarterback Malik Rosier tallied 137 passing yards, and safety Jaquan Johnson recorded eight total tackles, four of them being solo tackles.
It was almost as if the ‘Canes had not pummeled Notre Dame badly enough when winning at the original Orange Bowl back in 1989, 27-10. Almost 30 years later, the so-called “Catholics versus Convicts” rivalry had been taken to yet another level, and the city described by ESPN as “hot, bright, and electric” had appeared to regain its swagger.
“We didn’t see this coming,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously, we felt we were prepared to play at a high level. We did not.” It was in fact Miami that was not only the better prepared team, but had also flexed its potential as a College Football Playoff contender on that November evening. Some began to believe that The U being “back” was finally in store.
Three years later, and the 2020 college football season has been at stake amid the coronavirus pandemic. While some schools like Miami believe a football season remains at hand the NCAA and its conference commissioners are coordinating plans to prevent teams from traveling long distances to states that have experienced surges in coronavirus cases.
The Big Ten is now being perceived as the ringleader in this essential planning after implementing a conference-based football season. “We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten said in a statement on Thursday morning.
Similar athletic conferences are right behind the Big Ten, and Power Five programs like Miami are wondering how they will substitute originally scheduled non-conference games with other ACC matchups. Having originally been scheduled to play 12 total games, the Hurricanes will likely have two slots to fill, an increase from eight to ten conference matchups.
One, or even two, of those matchups would be against another ACC team, such as North Carolina State or even Clemson. Playing schools like these would be more ideal as opposed to traveling farther to face teams such as Syracuse or Boston College.
Another possibility for the ‘Canes is to play an Independent like Notre Dame. With the exception of football and ice hockey (Big Ten member), Notre Dame remains an ACC member institution for all other conference sports, playing against five ACC schools per year on the gridiron as a part of its agreement with the conference.
After the Big Ten had announced its schools would play solely conference-based football games this fall, Notre Dame’s matchup against Wisconsin was canceled given that the Irish are not a part of the conference. Matchups against other programs including historic rival USC may be scrapped as well.
Notre Dame is now left to follow suit with the aforementioned conferences, scrambling to find replacement matchups and reach the minimum amount of games needed prior to the annual bowl games and even the College Football Playoff semifinals.
11-year head coach Brian Kelly may very well face the reality of a rematch against the ‘Canes, given that Notre Dame will look to the ACC for help in filling empty matchups. Fan interest was undoubtedly present in the most recent meeting between Miami and Notre Dame, with a sold-out Hard Rock Stadium holding 65,303 fans. Many would imagine a large chunk of those same fans would turn on their television sets instantly to watch the potential next round.
Miami remains a team looking to pursue a return to a New Year’s Six bowl such as the 2021 Orange Bowl given its talent infusions and coaching staff additions. The college football world has been buzzing about what the team holds on paper, whether it be the athletic talents of new quarterback D’Eriq King (Houston graduate transfer), defensive ends Quincy Roche and Gregory Rousseau, or even true freshman safety Avantae Williams.
The Hurricanes were initially scheduled to play one of the easier sets of opponents nationally that did not include College Football Playoff teams such as ACC foe Clemson. Matchups against the Tigers and the Fighting Irish could certainly be a possibility, increasing the potential level of difficulty to maintain a well-established record for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance.